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Unpuzzling a Cemetery Plot

By Bertrand K. Macpherson
April 18, 2001

Usually when a person dies, he is buried in a cemetery, and a gravestone is erected to tell about him.

As genealogists know, every grave is different. Some graves have no markers. Some have elaborate ones. Some have names. Some tell a lot about the person. Some don't say much.

In my research for my OPDENWEYER ancestors -- my great-grandfather on my mother's side was Otto M. Opdenweyer -- I discovered that other people with that name were buried in a cemetery in Livingston Parish, Louisiana.

One of my BOWMAN cousins sent me a copy from the Edward Livingston Historical Society book on cemeteries in the parish.

Here's what it said:

"Felder Cemetery Record p. 219, row M., No.
29, H.H.D. Opdenweyer,
30, M.O. Opdenweyer,
31, J.F.R. Opdenweyer,
32, C.A.S. Opdenweyer,
33, L.R.S. Opdenweyer,
No. 30, S.R.D. Opdenweyer,
No. 31, Martha R. Opdenweyer (June 11, 1869 to June 13, 1950)
No. 32, J.W.O. Sr. Opdenweyer,
No. 33, Thelma Opdenweyer Dutton,
No. 34, F.R.O. Opdenweyer,
No. 35, F.D.S. Sr. Opdenweyer
No. 17, Lela Opdenweyer (1888-1978)
No. 18, Robert A. Peiter (1889-1964)
No. 19, J.W.O. Jr. Opdenweyer,
No. 20, Aunt Sylvy Opdenweyer
No. 21, C.R.E. Opdenweyer
No. 22, M.R.E. Opdenweyer
These inscriptions were copied in June 1978."

A number of members of the society walked the cemetery and wrote down what "they thought" were the names associated with the stones in the graves.

I am not casting blame on anyone for what they wrote. But they made an assumption, which turns out not to be true.

There are 23 graves within the borders of a plot, which is 30 by 50 feet. It is ringed by a concrete curb.

The original description seemed to indicate that the sites were in rows along with all the others in the cemetery. They are not in rows, except within the plot.

In my opinion, the key to the graves is a six-feet tall black marble monument which is located a few feet from the graves in the first row inside the plot. This monument was NOT mentioned in the original report on the graves.

The names engraved on the monument are: Papa, Mama, baby Mary. They are James Felix Robertson, Cornelia Ann Spiller and Mary Opdenweyer, who died at age 7.

cemetery livingston parish louisiana
Click photo to enlarge

Looking at the monument, one can realize that the JFR and CAS on stones below are the Robertsons. They were the grandparents of Mary Opdenweyer whose gravestone is next to theirs. Hers says "MO."

There are NINE Opdenweyer graves that I have identified. The rest of the graves belong to other people, who may or may not have been related to the Opdenweyers.

It is also unknown at present WHO bought the plot. It may have been Robertson who married Cornelia in 1859. According to census, he was born in Mississippi. Cornelia was born in 1834 in St. Helena Parish, a section of which became Livingston Parish.

The first grave belongs to Henry H. Denham (1855-1928). His name is spelled out on a raised marker on the vault. Then his initials "HHD" appear on the foot of the vault.

On the smaller grave next to his the initials "HHD" also appear. According to the 1910 census, this probably was Henry Denham Jr.

Once it is realized that SPILLERS are buried here, the other graves that end in S are probably Spillers.

I believe that "LRS" is Levi R. Spiller (1836-1897), who was a brother of Cornelia Ann.

Next to him is Mattie (Martha Ann) Spiller, a sister of Cornelia Ann and Levi. Mattie was the wife of Captain R. M. Amacker, who was NOT buried with her. He was buried in Port Vincent, LA.

The second row in the plot starts with "SRD", who was Sarah R. Denham, wife of Henry, according to the 1910 census.

Next is Martha Opdenweyer, who died in 1950. She was a Robertson and married to John W. Opdenweyer Sr., who lies next to her as "JWO Sr."

Next is Thelma Opdenweyer Dutton, who was a daughter of Frank M. Opdenweyer.

Next is "FRO" whom I perceive to be Fanny Robertson (perhaps) Opdenweyer, probably the wife of Frank M. There was a Fanny listed with him in the 1900 census. In civil records at the Livingston courthouse, I found reference to Frances Robertson Opdenweyer who could have been the Fanny. And I receive a death index record for Frances R. Opdenweyer.

"TDS Sr" is another Spiller, probably Thomas (1827-1867), a Civil War veteran.

The next row starts with Leila Opdenweyer, who died in 1988. She was a daughter of Martha and John.

Next to her are Edith DENHAM Peltier and her husband, Robert Peltier. Edith appears with her family in the 1910 census.

Next to them is John W. Opdenweyer Jr. The next plaque on the vault says "Aunt Sylvy," who may have been the family maid or servant. John Jr. did not marry and was killed in a car wreck in 1936.

Frank M. was listed as "Optenwire" on his plaque. He was omitted in the original list.

The next row contains Cornelia DENHAM Doran and her husband, Edwin Doran, followed by "M.S.E." and "C.R.E." I have not identified what the "E" signifies. But these are not Opdenweyers as the historians have stated.

Here's how I interpret the list:

H.H.D. Opdenweyer, Henry H. Denham
M.O. Opdenweyer, Mary Opdenweyer
J.F.R. Opdenweyer, James Felix Robertson
C.A.S. Opdenweyer, Cornelia Ann Spiller
L.R.S. Opdenweyer, Levi R. Spiller
S.R.D. Opdenweyer, Sarah R. Denham
Martha R. Opdenweyer (June 11, 1869 to June 13, 1950)
J.W.O. Sr. Opdenweyer,
Thelma Opdenweyer Dutton,
F.R.O. Opdenweyer, Fanny Robertson Opdenweyer
F.D.S. Sr. Opdenweyer, Thomas D. Spiller Sr.
Lela Opdenweyer (1888-1978)
Edith Denham and Robert A. Peiter
J.W.O. Jr. Opdenweyer,
Aunt Sylvy Opdenweyer, possibly the family servant
C.R.E. Opdenweyer, still unknown
M.R.E. Opdenweyer, still unknown

The Robertsons, Spillers, Denhams and Opdenweyers were all related.

These vaults appear a few inches above the ground. Caskets were under the vault with a lid. There is a slab on top of most of the vaults, then the plaque attached to the head. Some have said these graves had no headstones, but they do. They just don't say much. Why only initials were used is anyone's guess.

Four children of William and Mary are not buried in Felder. They are William Henry,who moved to Oregon; Louise, who married James Heap, and who died in Oregon, Sophie, who probably died in California, and Charles E. who died in 1894 at age 15.

And William Charles Opdenweyer, the postmaster, general store operator and sawmill founder, is not buried in Felder, nor is his wife, Mary Vugeley, who ran the sawmill until her oldest son, John Sr., could take over the reins.

William C. Opdenweyer was the older brother of my great-grandfather, Otto, who's burial site is still unknown.

On Aug. 22, 1998, I received the two death certificates for Martha and Leila Opdenweyer, who were mother and daughter.

Martha was the wife of John W. Opdenweyer Sr., apparently, who was the operator of the Opdenweyer Brothers Cypress Co. in Sorrento and New Orleans, LA. Her maiden name was Robertson, daughter of Felix Robertson and Cornelia Ann Spiller.

Martha died on July 13, 1950, at 9:30 pm of a heart attack in Baton Rouge General Hospital. She was 81 years old, 1 month and 2 days old, having been born on June 11, 1869 in Port Vincent, Livingston Parish, LA. The certificate stated that her husband was J. W. Opdenweyer, deceased. She had been a housewife, living on Airline Highway in Baton Rouge, LA. Two months before her death, she suffered a fractured hip, slipping at her home.

Leila Opdenweyer was a daughter of Martha and J. W. Opdenweyer. She never married.

She was born Oct. 20, 1888, in Livingston Parish, LA. She was a retired music teacher at Louisiana State University. She died on Jan. 24, 1978 of influenza and congestive heart failure at the age of 89. At her death, she was living at her mother's home at 4760 Airline Highway, Baton Rouge, LA.

The informant for her information on the certificate was furnished by Walter E. Busby of Baton Rouge. Another name that was scribbled under Busby's was D. Ducote. The informant for Martha Opdenweyer was Felix R. Spiller.

My thanks go to Lucille Bowman Cooper Denham, Claude Slaton, Lee Bowman and Brenda Felder who sent me information on these graves from February, 1998. I went to see the graves for myself on June 11 and 13, 2000, so I was able to solve a mystery.

- Bertrand K. Macpherson

Bertrand K. Macpherson, age 69, is a retired newspaper copy editor, living in Lima, OH, and has been doing his genealogy almost fulltime since 1995.

 

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